2007 July 31 Tuesday
Mortgage Problems Spreading

Months ago the spin on the housing market was that only subprime mortgages were in trouble and a turn-around was just around the corner. Yet another mortgage lender goes insolvent.

In a move that sent shockwaves through the financial markets and left investors millions of dollars poorer, Melville-based American Home Mortgage Investment Corp. announced yesterday that it lacked the money to pay its lenders or the credit lines to pay its borrowers.

It was the largest mortgage bank to face bankruptcy in a year of bad news for the mortgage industry, and the news that problems were not confined to high-risk lenders helped turn an early stock rally into a 147-point drop for the Dow Jones industrial average.

American Home lost a whole order of magnitude in value.

In corporate news, American Home fell $9.42, or 90 percent, to $1.05 following disclosure of its difficulties.

Moody's Investors Service tightened its standards Tuesday for so-called Alt-A loans, which are above supbrime but below prime loans in terms of credit quality. The move could stir concerns that credit problems are spreading beyond subprime loans to a higher quality of borrower.

Mortgage hedge funds have been collapsing.

After the market closed, the investment bank Bear Stearns, which this summer had to shut down two hedge funds that had made bad bets in the subprime mortgage market, said that a third fund had suffered losses in July and that redemption requests had been suspended.

Unlike the other two hedge funds, the Bear Stearns Asset-Backed Securities Fund, with $850 million in assets, had only a small fraction of its investments — less than 1 percent — in subprime mortgages, and the fund had not borrowed money to try to juice up returns, according to a person briefed on the fund but not authorized to speak for attribution.

Mortgage holders with higher credit ratings are also getting into financial trouble.

Countrywide Financial, which originates 17 percent of U.S. mortgages, reported a sharp drop in second-quarter profit, slashed its earnings forecast and signaled that its woes reflect that credit problems are spreading to a wider population of borrowers than once believed.

Countrywide Financial Chief Executive Angelo Mozilo is reported to have uttered this shocker in a conference call:

"Company is seeing home price depreciation at levels not seen since the Great Depression."

I hope the bursting housing bubble combined with Peak Oil don't throw the world economy into a depression.

Countrywide's growth in delinquent loans suggests a deepening housing financial problem.

Wall Street was shocked to hear that the percentage of Countrywide customers with good credit who were delinquent on their loans rose to 4.6 percent for the quarter, up from less than 2 percent a year ago.

We are reaching the end of "Flip This House"/"Flip That House" mania.

If you are a renter now's the time to start saving for a down payment. Get ready for the bargains.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 31 11:19 PM  Economics Housing
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2007 July 30 Monday
No Child Left Behind Act No Help On Learning Trends?

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush cooked up to improve education in America, does not appear to have changed the rate of improvement in test scores.

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 30, 2007 – As Congress reviews federal efforts to boost student performance, new research published in Educational Researcher (ER) reports that progress in raising test scores was stronger before No Child Left Behind was approved in 2002, compared with the four years following enactment of the law.

The article “Gauging Growth: How to Judge No Child Left Behind?” is authored by Bruce Fuller, Joseph Wright, Kathryn Gesicki, and Erin Kang, and is one of four featured works published in the current issue of ER—a peer-reviewed scholarly journal of the American Educational Research Association.

One explanation for this result is that in the years before the act was put into place schools had already squeezed most of the learning improvements possible for dumber students. Though these academics aren't going to entertain that idea.

Proficiency levels for 4th graders improved in math but worsened in reading.

The university team focused on 12 states, including Arkansas, California, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington. They selected these states because they are demographically diverse, geographically dispersed, and were able to provide comparable test score data over time.

Following passage of the ‘No Child’ law, federal reading scores among elementary school students declined in the 12 states tracked by the researchers – after climbing steadily during the 1990s.

The share of fourth-graders proficient in reading, based on federal NAEP results, climbed by one-half a percentage point each year, on average, between the mid-1990s and 2002. But over the four years after the legislation was passed, the share of students deemed proficient declined by about one percent.

The annual rise in the percentage of fourth-graders proficient in mathematics improved slightly in the same 12 states, moving up from 1.6 percent per year before ‘No Child’ was signed to a yearly growth rate of 2.5 percent following enactment of the law. This is the one out of six federal gauges where a post-NCLB gain was observed by the research team, tracking NAEP results.

To understand what is really going on we need to look at the data broken down by race.

The full text of the study is available in PDF format.

The dismal record for NCLB outlined above comes at a cost. Time spent teaching other subjects has been cut back in order to produce the meager to nonexistent scholastic improvements.

WASHINGTON – July 25, 2007 – A majority of the nation’s school districts report that they have increased time for reading and math in elementary schools since the No Child Left Behind Act became law in 2002, while time spent on other subjects has fallen by nearly one-third during the same time, according to a report from the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Education Policy.

The report, based on a nationally representative survey of nearly 350 school districts, finds that to make room for additional curriculum and instructional time in reading and math – the two subjects tested for accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act – many districts are also spending less time in other subjects that are not the focus of federal accountability.

About 62 percent of districts reported increasing time for English language arts and/or math in elementary schools since school year 2001-02, and more than 20 percent reported increasing time for these subjects in middle school during the same time.

Among the districts reporting increased time for English and math, the average increase was substantial, amounting to a 46 percent increase in English, a 37 percent increase in math, and a 42 percent increase across the two subjects combined.

Meanwhile, 44 percent of districts reported cutting time from one or more other subjects or activities at the elementary level, including science, social studies, art and music, physical education, lunch and recess. On average, the cuts amounted to about 30 minutes a day.

The report, Choices, Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era, also finds that overall, the decreases represent an average reduction of 31 percent in the total amount of instructional time devoted to these subjects since 2001-02.

I can see only one way to make substantial improvements in scholastic outcomes: teach smarter kids more rapidly. The smarter kids have the potential to learn more rapidly. With easy access to recorded video lectures, online texts, and online tests that allow them to earn college credit starting the smartest kids could learn more rapidly.

Some day drugs, gene therapies, and cell therapies will enhance the intellectual abilities of the dummies. Until genetic evidence demonstrates how deeply differences in scholastic performance is driven by genetic differences dishonest politicians will pretend that educational policies can help.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 30 10:16 PM  Education
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Costs Of College Majors Diverge

State universities, faced with less state taxpayer support, are beginning to charge different tuition prices for different majors.

Starting this fall, juniors and seniors pursuing an undergraduate major in the business school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, will pay $500 more each semester than classmates. The University of Nebraska last year began charging engineering students a $40 premium for each hour of class credit.

And Arizona State University this fall will phase in for upperclassmen in the journalism school a $250 per semester charge above the basic $2,411 tuition for in-state students.

Professors cost more in fields where the graduates get paid more.

Such moves are being driven by the high salaries commanded by professors in certain fields, the expense of specialized equipment and the difficulties of getting state legislatures to approve general tuition increases, university officials say.

Modest proposal: Record the lectures of a few highly paid professors and thereby drastically cut down the cost of delivering lectures by showing prerecorded lectures. Universities could approach graduate students and poor assistant professors and offer them big one-time fees in exchange for recording entire courses worth of lectures with unlimited distribution rights owned by the universities. Then universities could trade each other lectures series as a way to offer more courses and more experts giving their take on the same subjects.

Iowa State engineering students are going to feel an increasing pinch due to rising costs of engineering faculty.

Undergraduate juniors and seniors in the engineering school at Iowa State last year began paying about $500 more annually, he said, and the size of that additional payment is scheduled to rise by $500 a year for at least the next two years.

The use of prerecorded lectures will free up lots of professors to go out and work in the professions for which they are trained. By freeing up time of people whose time is highly valuable the video lectures will boost economic productivity and increase economic growth. The videos will also enable more people to get educated and to do so more conveniently, quickly, and cheaply.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 30 08:46 PM  Education
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2007 July 29 Sunday
Developed And Developing Countries Misnamed

One of Tyler Cowen's New York Times articles illustrates a common misuse of the term "developing" to refer to countries with very low per capita GDPs.

It is unfortunate that economists have to debate whether natural resources are a blessing or a curse for a developing nation. Minerals, diamonds or oil may appear to represent automatic wealth but resource-rich countries usually become mired in corruption. High oil revenues, for instance, allow a government to maintain power and reward political supporters without doing much for its people. The government of Nigeria has taken in billions from high oil prices, yet the average person was probably better off 40 years ago. The easy-to-reach wealth of a resource also encourages coups, and thus political stability is problematic.

Note Tyler's reference to "a developing nation". Typically (and in his usage) this refers to really poor countries. Every country in Africa qualifies for the "developing" appellation. Yet most countries so labeled aren't doing much developing. It would make more sense to refer to them as undeveloped. Some might say "underdeveloped". But that implies there's some standard they should be compared to and it is not clear to me which standard that should be or why.

Similarly, the term "developed" nations gets used to refer to relatively rich countries such as the United States, Japan, Germany, France, and Britain. Yet these developed countries are still developing and increasing their per capita output of goods and services. The ratio of per capita GDP between the most developed and least developed countries is increasing, not decreasing.

I'm not trying to pick on Tyler here. I've misused these terms in the same fashion and so does just about every writer in mainstream media publications. But these usages amount to Orwellian speak. In realty the "developed" countries are still developing. They are growing, developing new technology, producing new kinds of technology, expanding economically. By contrast, most of the "developing" countries are not developing or they are developing more slowly. The gap between the haves and have-nots continues to widen. The more industrialized countries are not sitting still waiting for the poorer countries to catch up.

Some poor countries really are developing. China most dramatically illustrates the idea behind the use of "developing" to refer to poorer countries undergoing rapid per capita economic growth. But many other countries are not doing much development and use of the term "developing" to refer to them obscures what is really going on with them.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 29 10:58 PM  Media Critique
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2007 July 28 Saturday
Private Schooling Too Expensive For British Middle Class

Private school tuition is rising up out of reach of the British middle class.

Private school fees have soared by 41% since 2002 - at more than twice the rate of inflation, effectively pricing more parents out of privately educating their children, research showed today.

Figures showing the rising cost of private tuition came as leftwing thinktank the Fabian Society, chaired by the secretary of state for children, schools and families Ed Balls, suggested the government introduce a tax on private school fees to halt the exodus from state education.

Are the Fabian socialists oblivious to the trend which is already putting private education out of the range of an overwhelming majority of the British population and even of much of the middle class? Or are they incensed that the upper class can still afford to send their kids to private schooling even as private schooling rises above the reach of the middle class?

What can drive such a big increase in prices? Higher demand or higher costs? Also, what's driving the rising demand? Perceived greater return on educational investment? Need to get one's kids away from immigrant kids who are ruining the local school? Other?

In 2007, the average annual cost of sending a child to private day school was £9,627, compared with £6,820 in 2002, according to research by Britain's largest mortgage lender Halifax Financial Services.

That is nearly $20,000 at today's exchange rates. So put 20 kids into a classroom. Charge, say, $19,000. That's $380,000 for a classroom. How can it cost that much? Surely the teacher's seeing only a small fraction of that. How much do elementary school teachers make in Manchester or Liverpool or Cardiff?

A lengthening list of occupations do not pay well enough to make private schooling of children affordable.

Key public sector workers can no longer afford private education for their children. For teachers, average school fees for day pupils represent 28% of the average salary and 36% for nurses.

Only 13 occupations can now afford fees, compared with 23 in 2002, according to Halifax. Lecturers, scientists, engineers, journalists, writers, trading standards officers and computer programmers would now need help paying the fees they could afford in 2002.

The article says private school enrollment rose by 6% from 2001 to 2006. In the face of these higher prices that suggests a decline in middle class enrollment combined with a big increase in enrollment of children of high income parents.

Why didn't the enrollment rise more rapidly with less of a price rise? Are private school buildings already full? Does expansion really cost so much that high demand gets met with big price increases?

This article illustrates why I do not trust inflation indexes. If you looked at a market basket of goods and services bought by British engineers, scientists, first level managers and others who can't afford to send their kids to private school you wouldn't find private school as an expense for them. So the rise in private school costs wouldn't show up as inflation in their market basket.

Also, if the demand for private schooling comes as a result egalitarian educational policies that force dummies and smarties into the same classrooms then the quality of publicly provided service has declined and that doesn't show up in price indexes either.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 28 06:35 PM  Education
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Iraqi Government Refuses To Improve

How do you say mañana in Arabic?

Baghdad - Iraq is in the throes of its worst political crisis since the fall of Saddam Hussein with the new democratic system, based on national consensus among its ethnic and sectarian groups, appearing dangerously close to collapsing, say several politicians and analysts.

This has brought paralysis to governmental institutions and has left parliament unable to make headway on 18 benchmarks Washington is using to measure progress in Iraq, including legislation on oil revenue sharing and reforming security forces.

And the disconnect between Baghdad and Washington over the urgency for solutions is growing. The Iraqi parliament is set for an August vacation as the Bush administration faces pressure to show progress in time for a September report to Congress.

Referring to the Iraqis as Iraqis is a mistake. The people in the government do not see themselves as acting on behalf of a group called Iraqis.

Robert Springborg, director of the Middle East Institute at the University of London, says the heart of the problem was that no one is truly committed to a strong and unified government.

"The actors involved have their own agendas, the central government and its resources are a tool for their own aspirations ... none are committed to a government for all Iraqis," he says.

This will not change. We can stay for years and this will remain the same. They are so tribal and sectarian that they have little or no loyalty to give to something called Iraq.

Out of the $20 billion in construction projects the United States is funding in Iraq we've so far tried to turn over $5.8 billion projects for Iraqi mismanagement but the Iraqi government refuses to even take over many of those projects to begin their post-construction mismanagement.

Iraq's national government is refusing to take possession of thousands of American-financed reconstruction projects, forcing the United States either to hand them over to local Iraqis, who often lack the proper training and resources to keep the projects running, or commit new money to an effort that has already consumed billions of taxpayer dollars.

The conclusions, detailed in a report released Friday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, a federal oversight agency, include the finding that of 2,797 completed projects costing $5.8 billion, Iraq's national government had, by the spring of this year, accepted only 435 projects valued at $501 million. Few transfers to Iraqi national government control have taken place since the current Iraqi government, which is frequently criticized for inaction on matters relating to the American intervention, took office in 2006.

The United States often promotes the number of rebuilding projects, such as power plants and hospitals, that have been completed in Iraq, citing them as signs of progress in a nation otherwise fraught with violence and political stalemate. But closer examination by the inspector general's office, headed by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., has found that a number of individual projects are crumbling, abandoned or otherwise inoperative only months after the United States declares that they have been successfully completed.

The Iraqi government has a limited supply of mismanagers. We've created too much infrastructure for them to mismanage.

The US government has another $14 billion worth of projects in Iraq nearing completion. Next year whether US troops stay or leave the supply of crumbling wasted projects in Iraq is going to triple. I say we leave and let that waste and damage take place out of our sight.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 28 09:29 AM  Mideast Iraq Democracy Failure
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Family Raped And Killed Kurdish Woman In Britain

When you hear some intellectuals babbling on in favor of multiculturalism ask them if we should import cultures that find honor killings acceptable.

A father who ordered the killing of his daughter after finding out she had a boyfriend has been jailed for life.

Banaz Mahmod, 20, was raped and tortured before being strangled and buried in a suitcase in Birmingham.

Her Iraqi Kurd father Mahmod Mahmod, 52, of Mitcham, south London, will serve at least 20 years.

Her uncle Ari Mahmod, 50, who helped arrange the murder, and killer Mohammed Hama, 30, got life terms and will serve at least 23 and 17 years respectively.

They laughed while raping her.

A series of secret prison recordings showed that Banaz Mahmod’s killers had laughed as they raped and tortured her, before Mohamad Hama, a hired thug, stamped on her neck while strangling her with a ligature to “force out her soul”.

At least two of the killers got away by fleeing Britain.

At least two of the gang of killers have since fled to Iraq.

An older sister who is now hiding for the family was in the house while her sister was killed.

Ari Mahmod, 51, recruited a gang of thugs who tortured, raped and strangled his niece Banaz Mahmod, 20, before cramming her body into a suitcase and burying it in a pit, where it lay for three months. The brothers had decided Ms Mahmod was to be killed because she had fallen in love with a man they felt was unsuitable.

Ms Mahmod's father, Mahmod Mahmod, 54, left his home in Mitcham, south-west London, on the morning of the murder so that she could be killed there. An older sister was in the house at the time.

An associate of Ari's, Mohamad Hama, 31, who was recorded in prison boasting of kicking and stamping on Ms Mahmod's neck "to get her soul out", was also sentenced to life yesterday. He pleaded guilty to murder.

The minimum sentences ranged only from 17 to 23 years. Why should these men ever be given the chance to walk free again?

The older sister wore a burkah while testifying. She's afraid to show her face.

She was put into an arranged marriage at age 16 but fled Kurdistan to get out of it.

She was kept away from Western influences, entered an arranged marriage at the age of 16 with a member of her clan and was expected to fulfill the role of subservient wife and mother.

Thanks to immigration honor crimes are rising in Britain.

Ms Sood, who specialises in Asian family cases, told BBC Radio Five Live "honour crimes of some sort" whether or not they resulted in death, were becoming more common in the UK.

"But certainly honour crimes are being perpetrated in the hundreds every year," she said.

I reject multiculturalism. We should kick the Muslims out of the West. Pay the legal residents to leave and round up all the illegals.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 28 08:22 AM  Immigration Culture Clash
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2007 July 26 Thursday
Daniel Larison On Lessons Learned About American Politics

Daniel Larison looks back over lessons he's learned watching the American political scene.

On conservatism and American politics:

1) First among these was my assumption that most Americans who called themselves conservatives distrusted government and feared the expansion of government power. That was the conservatism I had been raised with, and it seemed to be the one that had a visceral appeal to a large number of conservatives during the ’90s. Obviously, this conservatism is held by only a fairly small number of conservatives, and, as wiser people than I have known all along, the popularity of a “roll back the state” message is extremely superficial.

2) One of my other false beliefs connected to this was that most conservatives were conservatives first and GOP partisans second (if at all), and would therefore be just as outraged by GOP government activism and overreach as they had been in the 1990s. This was the worst sort of naivete on my part, and it was repeatedly shown to be false. To point out that some of the same people who wanted to attack Iraq opposed aggression against Yugoslavia was almost useless–partisans are well aware that they use a double standard, and they have no problem with it. Again, I mistook the attitudes of conservatives whom I knew for what was true for “conservatives” generally–this was just sloppy analysis.

3) Another false belief that I held was that most conservatives were conservative as a result of custom and reflection, with rather more emphasis on the latter, and to discover that most conservatives were such on the basis of little more than visceral dislike of various hate figures was something that took some time to accept.

Larison makes still more excellent observations in the full post.

I'd add another: The big name supposedly conservative commentators, like most of their liberal counterparts, aren't terribly empirical. Their analyses aren't weighted down by well vetted evidence. But the commentators are a reflection of the population that listens to them.

It occurs to me that the reason why antiwar activists are so strongly attached to the mantra of “Bush lied” (besides the reality that he and his officials did lie on numerous occasions) is that they are attempting to square a nation that embraced a manifestly unjust, unnecessary war with their confidence in the functioning of our system of government.  In this view, if people will so easily embrace such an obviously wrongheaded policy, sane foreign policy will not be possible in a democratic system.  The government’s deceptions (which absolutely did occur) help to bear a lot of this burden, since they allow the majority of people to use the old “he tricked us” excuse to cover up for their own failures.  Absent those failures, however, no deceit would have been sufficient to propel a country entirely against its will into such a war. 

I've had to lower my expectations about what we can expect in terms of quality of elected officials, quality of pundits, and quality of thought in the general public. The continued defense of the Iraq war by too many commentators demonstrates the tribalism and poor quality of thought which characterizes major US political factions.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 26 11:17 PM  Elites Betrayal And Incompetence
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2007 July 25 Wednesday
Quarter Of British Terrorism Suspects Asylum Seekers

There's a really really simple way to greatly reduce the Muslim terrorist threat in the West: Keep out Muslims. Instead, Britain lets in Muslims in sufficient number that asylum seekers alone make up a quarter of all suspected terrorists in Britain.

THE government faces new embarrassment over Britain’s porous borders with the revelation that one in four terrorist suspects arrested in Britain is an asylum seeker.

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, there have been more than 1,100 arrests under antiterrorism legislation. While some of the most serious threats come from Al-Qaeda supporters born in the UK, there is new evidence of many suspects exploiting loopholes in the country’s immigration laws.

It was confirmed last week that Muktar Said Ibrahim, one of the bombers involved in the failed suicide attacks of July 21, 2005, was given a passport even though he had convictions for indecent assault and robbery. Gordon Brown has said an applicant in similar circumstances would not now be granted citizenship.

A Home Office analysis of those arrested under antiterrorism laws from 2001 to 2005 found that almost a quarter – 24%, or 232 out of 963 – had previously applied for asylum.

This is what Monty Python called "Getting Hit On The Head Lessons".

Even if Muslim immigration was restricted to educated Muslims that would not eliminate the threat as demonstrated by the recent attempt by Muslim doctors to blow up cars in London and Glasgow.

All eight of the suspects arrested following car bombing attempts in London and Glasgow reportedly were employed or previously employed by Britain's National Health Service.

The suspects, whose names have not been confirmed by police, include one doctor from Iraq and two from India. There are also a physician from Lebanon and a Jordanian doctor and his medical assistant wife. Another doctor and a medical student are thought to be from the Middle East.

These are signs that reality is trying to tell us something. But our elites don't want to hear it.

More generally, the Western countries have plenty of people already. Britain is very densely populated and does not need a larger population. Population increases do not improve the quality of life for the people who are already there. The opposite is the case. So why let in floods of people?

By Randall Parker 2007 July 25 10:35 PM  Immigration Terrorism
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2007 July 24 Tuesday
How Many Months To $100 Barrel Oil?

Goldman Sachs Group analyst sees $100 per barrel oil as possible this year.

Jeffrey Currie, a London-based commodity analyst at the world's biggest securities firm, says $95 crude is likely this year unless OPEC unexpectedly increases production, and declining inventories are raising the chances for $100 oil. Jeff Rubin at CIBC World Markets predicts $100 a barrel as soon as next year.

``We're only a headline of significance away from $100 oil,'' said John Kilduff, an analyst in the New York office of futures broker Man Financial Inc. ``The unrelenting pressure of increased demand has left the market a coiled spring.'' New disruptions of Nigerian or Iraqi supplies, or any military strike against Iran, might trigger the rise, Kilduff said in a July 20 interview.

World oil production has gone down in the last year even as prices have risen for several years running. So far high prices haven't produced more supply. Given the growing number of countries that are now post-peak in oil production that's not too surprising.

The oil industry's leading figures admit to rising costs for finding and producing in new oil fields. We do not find new reserves as fast as we use up reserves. This is beginning to bite us in a big way.

The cost of finding and pumping oil is rising steadily, convincing analysts such as Rubin and Deutsche Bank AG chief energy economist Adam Sieminski that higher prices will last. Shortages of deepwater drilling ships and rigs has pushed daily rents to records, and the skilled workers needed to run rigs, weld pipes, pilot vessels, fix refineries and build oil-sands projects command ever-higher wages.

``Three years ago we were calling for $30 oil, then $35 and then $40 oil,'' said New York-based Sieminski, who last week raised his forecast for the average price of oil in 2010 to $60 a barrel from $45.

``I've gotten tired of increasing these forecasts in $5 increments,'' Sieminski said in an interview. ``Something has happened. Costs have continued to escalate, and the geopolitical situation has gotten worse.''

We need to start preparing for a post-oil era. The money getting wasted in Iraq would be far better spent on conservation measures and energy research. So far the demand curve for oil has seemed pretty inelastic. If oil demand remains inelastic then $150 to $200 per barrel oil is about 4 to 5 years away. What I want to know: Will we reach a point where people start making huge lifestyle changes to cut their energy usage? When will this happen? At what price of oil will demand start collapsing?

By Randall Parker 2007 July 24 12:47 AM  Economics Energy
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2007 July 22 Sunday
Games Train For SAT And Other Tests

The SAT test preparation industry demonstrates how more education ought to get done: with entertainment and automation.

Test-prep giant Kaplan has paired up with publisher TOKYOPOP to offer a series of manga novels (Japanese-style comics). Released earlier this month, each of three popular stories was rewritten to include more than 300 words commonly tested on the SAT and ACT. (Cost: $9.99.)

"Van Von Hunter" stars a raven-haired hero who vanquishes evil in the land of Dikay. In just the first few pages, you'll find words like "inviolable," "nefarious," and "subvert." Underlined words are de­­fined in a box on the same page.

"By having the combination of the visual story and the words popping out on the page, students can ... really retain the words, versus just memorizing a list," says Kristen Campbell, Kaplan's national director of SAT and ACT programs in New York. With librarians and even classroom teachers tapping into this popular genre, she says, it made sense to add it to the test-prep options.

If a CD can help rapidly boost vocabulary tests doesn't that suggest that software can both more effectively and more rapidly boost educational productivity than more teachers or higher paid teachers?

Vocabulary Accelerator, by Defined Mind Inc. in New York, serves up rock, hip-hop, and R&B songs on a CD with a workbook of related exercises (www.defmind.com, $25 for the set). One ninth-grade teacher reported that after just a few weeks of incorporating the program into her lessons, her class's average score on vocabulary quizzes went up from 40 to 84 percent.

We need games and other software that teaches and tests for a much wider range of subjects. We also need ways for high school students to earn college credits in a variety of subjects by taking tests online. We need to speed up and lower the cost of education. Make it easy for kids to learn at any time and any speed rather than when classes get held and at the rate at which classes get held.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 22 11:11 PM  Education
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Partial Subsidy Won't Reduce Ranks Of Uninsured Much

If the US government offered to pay half the cost of medical insurance premiums only a very small fraction of the uninsured would sign up.

Government subsidies that cut health insurance premium prices in half for people without insurance would reduce the number of uninsured Americans by just 3 percent, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

The study by the nonprofit research organization contradicts suggestions by some that large numbers of people without health insurance would sign up for coverage if government provided subsidies or tax credits to reduce the cost of health insurance.

An estimated 45 million Americans don't have health insurance. Most of these people are in low- and moderate-income families where no one gets the insurance from his or her job, but family income is too high to qualify for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor.

"Insurance policy prices aren't going to be the tool that solves the problem of the uninsured," said M. Susan Marquis, senior economist with RAND and one of the study's authors. "Price is not the only barrier people face in deciding whether to purchase insurance. A lot of people who don't have insurance are young and healthy and would rather spend their money on something else."

People would rather spend their money on other things and they figure if they get really sick the government will step in and help. This illustrates one moral hazard of the welfare state.

People surveyed for the RAND Health study cited numerous other factors that influenced whether they purchased individual health insurance policies, including personal attitudes toward risk, whether they believe they can get good health care without insurance, perceived difficulty in selecting a health care plan, and even a concern that insurance companies require too much personal information for individual plans compared with group insurance plans.

"One implication of our findings is that if you really do want to get to universal health insurance coverage, voluntary solutions that rely on financial incentives aren't going to get you there," Marquis said. "Government is probably going to have to mandate it."

We could reduce the ranks of the medically uninsured by deporting all the illegal aliens. Most of them are uninsured. Plus, the deportation of those illegals would reduce the cost of medical insurance for everyone else by reducing the cost shifting where medical institutions charge paying customers more to make up for the non-payers. Also, a reduction in the supply of unskilled labor would cause many employers to offer more benefits - including medical insurance - in order to attract employees.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 22 10:31 PM  Economics Health
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Adults Fear Youths In Worst Neighborhoods

I recall years ago reading an essay by Charles Murray where he said once illegitimacy passes some threshold adults no longer control neighborhoods. That is, parenthetically, an argument against letting in immigrant groups that have high rates of illegitimacy and single parent households. Well, in those neighborhoods where the adults lose control adults are afraid to tell the youthful criminals to stop their activities.

A study of young, violent criminals in New York City found that they used fear and intimidation to keep adults from interfering with their criminal activities.

Almost 40 percent of the young offenders interviewed said that adults' fear of teens was the defining characteristic of their relations.

As a result, in many situations, adults ignored criminal activity by teens and young adults, findings showed.

These results suggest that one of the usual prescriptions for ending youth violence -- more informal social control by neighborhood adults -- may not be realistic in some violent neighborhoods.

Putting all the criminals into jail and keeping them there long enough to allow the law abiding to restore order is one approach that could work. If a neighborhood's law abiding adults can't restrain its youths then the criminal element needs to get put in jail in very large numbers.

"There are these somewhat naive notions that the key to reducing violence is to create these close ties with neighbors, where adults can provide informal social control over teens," said Deanna Wilkinson, author of the study and associate professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University.

"That's not going to work in neighborhoods where relations between adults and young people are governed by fear."

We need a male birth control device that youthful street criminals could be put on as a condition of probation. At least that way these thugs wouldn't knock up women to create new generations of criminals.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 22 10:14 PM  Civilizations Order Maintenance
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Verlyn Klinkenborg Opposes California Population Growth

Verlyn Klinkenborg, member of the New York Times editorial board and a nature writer who lives in a rural area of New York State, has written a piece in the Times arguing that the projected growth of California's human population to 60 million by 2050 is something we should seek to prevent.

Recently, the California Department of Finance projected that there will be some 60 million people living in the state by 2050. At present there are 36 million. The numbers in themselves are frightening enough, but what I find terrifying is the bland assumption that a two-thirds increase in population is inevitable and that the main problem will be creating the infrastructure necessary to house, feed, educate, transport and govern all those people. To me, the main problem is how to keep them from showing up in the first place.

Of course he makes no mention of why California's population continues to grow even as the natives flee. A liberal on the NY Times editorial board can not accurately discuss reality when to do so would violate taboos. That Klinkenborg could even write about population growth as a problem surprises me.

Picture all the roads and houses and for every 3 that exist picture 2 more getting created on top of wilderness in the next 43 years.

Somehow the numbers in themselves don’t really suggest the sobering weight of this projection. To say that for every three Californians now there will be five in 2050 doesn’t capture the scale of change. If you said that for every three houses now there will be five in 2050, or for every three cars, ditto, you might be getting a little closer to the visceral feel of the thing.

Californians will still be able to look at wildlife in old movies.

And then there is the impact of all those people on the other species with which they might have shared the Golden State. In 2007, we remain blindly impervious to the life-claims of almost all other forms of life — to the moral stipulation that their right to life is equivalent to ours. How it will be then I do not know, but if there are indeed 60 million people living in California in 2050, there will be nothing meaningful to be said on the matter, except as a subject of nostalgia.

We have enough people. The year is not 1700. In the year 2007 a continued expansion of the US population lowers the quality of life for the people who are already here. We should put a stop to the immigration that is driving the population growth.

Klinkenborg refers to a speech by James Madison which appears to be his "Address to the Agricultural Society of Albemarle, Virginia" (1818) which he delivered not long after retiring from the Presidency in early 1817. In this 1818 speech Madison voiced his worry that our species would wipe out many and even almost all other species.

On comparing this vast profusion and multiplicity of beings with the few grains and grasses, the few herbs and roots, and the few fowls and quadrupeds, which make up the short list adapted to the wants of man, it is difficult to believe that it lies with him so to remodel the work of nature as it would be remodelled, by a destruction not only of individuals, but of entire species; and not only of a few species, but of every species, with the very few exceptions which he might spare for his own accommodation.

Such a multiplication of the human race, at the expense of the rest of the organized creation, implies that the food of all plants is composed of elements equally and indiscriminately nourishing all, and which, consequently, may be wholly appropriated to the one or few plants best fitted for human use. Whether the food or constituent matter of vegetables be furnished from the earth, the air, or water; and whether directly, or by either, through the medium of the others, no sufficient ground appears for the inference that the food for all is the same.

Parenthetically, what does biomass energy amount to? A way to use even more land for human purposes.

Immigration is driving up the US population and increasing the size of our footprint on the land. The natural areas of California keep shrinking. Haven't they shrunk far enough?

By Randall Parker 2007 July 22 02:37 PM  Immigration Demographics
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2007 July 21 Saturday
Skilled Workers Splitting With Unskilled In Germany

German unions used to band together with other unions and negotiate with management. But Der Spiegel reports that the unions which have the most skilled members are splitting off from the unions that have less skilled members.

First it was pilots, then doctors, now Germany's train drivers are breaking ranks to negotiate their own pay deals. As German skilled workers demand wage increases in line with their counterparts abroad, could this signal the end of collective bargaining?

German pilots and doctors compare themselves to pilots and doctors in other Western countries and want to make as much money as their foreign peers.

And in 2006 hospital doctors in Germany went on strike to protest the fact that their earnings were far below those doctors in other countries. In fact the relatively poor pay and difficult conditions had led to a exodus of doctors (more...) leaving Germany for the UK, Scandinavia and elsewhere.

This trend suggests that industrialized countries with relatively lower levels of income inequality will become more like the countries which have greater income inequality. The differences in wages between the most and least skilled will increase. While language serves as a barrier that slows down labor mobility in Europe many of the most educated are bilingual or trilingual. For highly skilled occupations where workers can easily move wages will rise much more rapidly than wages for the least skilled.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 21 12:54 AM  Economics Inequality
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2007 July 20 Friday
Americans Grow Increasingly Pessimistic About Future

America is stuck in a stupid foolish war. We have huge unfunded old age pension liabilities. The world's running out of oil. The American population is aging and dumbing down. Oh, and population growth has driven up housing costs for a rising percentage of the population. Is it any wonder that an increasing portion of the likely voters think America's best days are behind us?

Confirming a growing trend of pessimism, only 33% of likely voters across the United States believe the country's best days are ahead of us. That figure is down from 41% last November and 48% in January 2004.

Forty-three percent (43%) now believe that the country’s best days have come and gone (see history).

Women are far more pessimistic than men. Just 25% of women believe the nation’s best days are ahead of us. Forty-four percent (44%) of men share that assessment.

Younger Americans are less optimistic than their elders. Just 22% of those under 30 believe the USA has better days ahead.

Republicans are evenly divided on the question—40% say the best days are in the future while 42% believe they were in the past. Among Democrats, just 30% hold the optimistic view while 48% are pessimistic on this question.

I can understand the higher levels of pessimism of younger generations. After all, the pyramid schemes that form the foundation of government-funded old age retirement programs can't last and in a major intergenerational shafting people who are now under age 50 are going to foot the bill. Also, oil and some other natural resources are getting depleted. Plus, population growth from immigration will dumb down and swell the population, increasing crime and housing costs as people compete harder for land in the safer and more desirable locales. The future certainly has some big downsides.

But the future holds out some amazing promises. Most notably, the youngsters need to know - failing a total breakdown of civilization - that by the time they get old full body rejuvenation will become possible. 20 year olds today will turn 70 in the year 2057. Their life expectancies at that point might be measured in the thousands of years.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 20 10:23 PM  Polls Future Prospects
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2007 July 18 Wednesday
Distracted Drunks Less Violent

Drunks get violent toward what annoys them unless distractions shift their thoughts elsewhere.

The link between alcohol and aggression is well known. What’s not so clear is just why drunks get belligerent. What is it about the brain-on-alcohol that makes fighting seem like a good idea" And do all intoxicated people get more aggressive" Or does it depend on the circumstances"

University of Kentucky psychologist Peter Giancola and his student Michelle Corman decided to explore these questions in the laboratory. One theory about alcohol and aggression is that drinking impairs the part of the brain involved in allocating our limited mental resources—specifically attention and working memory. When we can only focus on a fraction of what’s going on around us, the theory holds, drunks narrow their social vision, concentrating myopically on provocative cues and ignoring things that might have a calming or inhibiting effect.

The scientists tested this idea on a group of young Kentucky men. Some of the men drank three to four screwdrivers before the experiment, while others stayed sober. Then they had them all compete against another person in a somewhat stressful game that required very quick responses. Every time they lost a round, they received a shock varying in intensity. Likewise, when they won a round they gave their opponent a shock. The idea was to see how alcohol affected the men’s belligerence, as measured by the kinds of shocks they chose to hand out.

But there was more to it. Giancola and Corman also deliberately manipulated some of the volunteers’ cognitive powers. They required them—some drinkers, some not—to simultaneously perform a difficult memory task. The idea was to see if they could distract those who were “under the influence” from their “hostile” situation. If they could tax their limited powers of concentration, perhaps they wouldn’t process the fact that someone was zapping them with electricity.

And that’s exactly what happened. As reported in the July issue of Psychological Science, the drunks who had nothing to distract them were predictably mean, exhibiting aggression towards their adversaries. However, the drunks whose attention was focused elsewhere were actually less aggressive than the sober non-drinkers. This seems counterintuitive at first, but it’s really not: The sober men were cognitively intact, so they would naturally attend to both provocations and distractions in the room, resulting in some low level of aggression.

It appears that alcohol has the potential to both increase and decrease aggression, depending on where’s one’s attention is focused. The psychologists speculate that working memory is crucial not only to barroom behavior, but to all social behavior, because it provides the capacity for self-reflection and strategic planning. Activating working memory with salient, non-hostile, and health-promoting thoughts, in effect reduces the “cognitive space” available for inclinations towards violence.

Create distractions when a person or group is starting to get belligerent.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 18 10:01 PM  Human Nature
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2007 July 17 Tuesday
Charles Murray Wants To Replace SAT

Charles Murray wants to abolish the core SAT and substitute results from the College Board's achievement tests.

Getting rid of the SAT will destroy the coaching industry as we know it. Coaching for the SAT is seen as the teaching of tricks and strategies—a species of cheating—not as supplementary education. The retooled coaching industry will focus on the achievement tests, but insofar as the offerings consist of cram courses for tests in topics such as U.S. history or chemistry, its taint will be reduced.

Yes, the achievement tests are more constructive. But Murray does not go far enough. The Advanced Placement tests are even more constructive because they yield college credits. What we need is a massive increase in the ability of students to earn college credits without ever stepping foot on a bricks-and-mortar college campus.

Let students watch high resolution video lectures and take practice tests on the web for most undergraduate courses. Let them show up in a proctored room once a month to take tests in any subjects where they think they've learned enough to earn college credits. This would be cheaper and much more open to the lower classes, to the bright kids born on the wrong side of the proverbial tracks.

While Murray thinks the SAT is highly accurate and hard to game he thinks a widespread belief that upper class kids can get trained for it reduces its legitimacy.

A low-income student shut out of opportunity for an SAT coaching school has the sense of being shut out of mysteries. Being shut out of a cram course is less daunting. Students know that they can study for a history or chemistry exam on their own. A coaching industry that teaches content along with test-taking techniques will have the additional advantage of being much better pedagogically—at least the students who take the coaching courses will be spending some of their time learning history or chemistry.

The lower or even just middle income students have the sense of being shut out of a lot more than the mysteries of SAT coaching schools. In the world of higher education the use of the SAT is a symptom of a much larger problem. We need to move away from the extremely expensive elite school model and move toward much more accessible educational materials.

Murray says a greater emphasis on achievement tests will cause a bigger focus on the quality of high schools.

The substitution of achievement tests for the SAT will put a spotlight on the quality of the local high school’s curriculum. If achievement test scores are getting all of the parents’ attention in the college admissions process, the courses that prepare for those achievement tests will get more of their attention as well, and the pressure for those courses to improve will increase.

I think the spotlight should shift away from high schools and colleges and toward ways to empower individuals to learn as much as they want and can handle.

In spite of co-authoring The Bell Curve Murray imagines there's some way to reduce the role of cognitive status symbols in American society.

The final benefit of getting rid of the SAT is the hardest to describe but is probably the most important. By getting rid of the SAT, we would be getting rid of a totem for members of the cognitive elite.

But totems for signaling higher intelligence help to make the labor market much more efficient and accurate. We need ways for employers to identify job applicants who are smart enough to do the most cognitively demanding jobs.

Education costs too much. Way too much. That is a bigger obstacle than differences in SAT test scores. Educational institutions are also highly inconvenient. You have to set aside 3 months of your life to take some semester-length courses and have to do so where a college is located that offers what you want and that will accept you. You can't choose when the 3 month period starts.

We need to replace the education system that uses the SAT rather than replace the SAT.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 17 09:21 PM  Education
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2007 July 15 Sunday
Robots Can Replace Immigrant Field Labor

An article in MIT's Technology Review reports on yet another promising agricultural robot that demonstrates we can eliminate the need for low skilled labor in agriculture.

Scientists in Denmark are developing an agricultural robot for identifying and eliminating weeds. While this might seem like a relatively easy task, it actually requires a lot of machine intelligence to pick out the weeds among the crops. The robot is still in the early stages of development, but the researchers hope that it will ultimately lead to a reduction in the amount of herbicides used by farmers and therefore cut costs.

Called Hortibot, the semi-autonomous robot is a navigational platform designed to have different agricultural tools fitted to it to either mechanically remove weeds or precision-spray them with herbicide.

The cheap labor lobby argues the United States must let in huge numbers of low skilled illegal aliens from Mexico to do grunt work. But necessity is the mother of invention. Take away the supply of cheap (really subsidized) labor to farmers and then the market will produce many more robots to do every job in farm fields.

This robot can identify rows of crops and navigate the rows.

At a recent Field Robot Event, held in Wageningen, in the Netherlands, Hortibot was able to follow furrows and autonomously turn in the appropriate direction when it reached the edge of the crop rows.

The ability to recognize different kinds of leaves in order to selectively spray herbicides only on weeds reduces chemical use and reduces the need for labor. The navigational ability has applications beyond spraying of herbicides. Initial crop planting and harvesting both would benefit from autonomous machines that can navigate farm fields and stay oriented in row direction.

This robot still needs a human handler to watch it in case it gets off track. But cameras mounted on such robots could allow a single handler to sit at a desk and track multiple robots watching for mistakes that require manual correction.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 15 11:03 PM  Immigration Economics
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People Expect Better Medical Care In Big Buildings

People judge medical facilities by what the outsides look like.

Curb appeal counts in real estate. But what about in medical care facilities? Do individuals judge the quality of care and their expected comfort level by how a building looks? They do, and medical practitioners should take note.

Connecticut College Professor of Psychology Ann Devlin asked 188 individuals to view 34 slides of the exteriors of medical buildings in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Michigan and judge the quality of care they would expect to receive and the comfort level they would expect to experience in these facilities. The buildings ranged from small outpatient office buildings to large medical centers.

The appearance of medical building exteriors is indeed related to these care and expected comfort judgments.

Findings clearly showed that while respondents made both positive and negative comments for every facility, the highest quality of care ratings were for large medical facilities - such as modern hospitals.

However, while respondents rated modern, large hospitals highly, they also expressed concern that the facilities could be intimidating, cold and impersonal.

"Large medical facilities should emphasize a stepped-down quality as much as possible, so what greets the patient is on a more human scale and of a familiar architecture," Devlin said.

The lowest ratings were given for small brick buildings. In between were the ratings for traditional, converted house-style facilities. But certain aspects of these small facilities can improve the impression they make. Respondents are likely to judge small facilities, such as small brick buildings or converted houses, more positively if the facilities are landscaped and well-maintained.

To be fair to the viewers of the photos, they had no other basis on which to judge the facilities. A larger facility must attract a larger number of customers. Why would so many people use it if was not better than the smaller ones?

The problem we have is that as users of medical care we don't have much in the way of useful information for judging medical care quality of doctors and hospitals.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 15 02:42 PM  Economics Health
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2007 July 12 Thursday
Most Feel Economy Getting Worse

Most feel from their standpoint that the American economy is getting worse.

A new Gallup Poll will only reinforce those who claim that while the rich get richer most Americans don't feel they are sharing in the growth in our economy. The stock market may be climbing and the unemployment remains relatively low, but 7 in 10 Americans believe the economy is getting worse -- the most negative reading in nearly six years.

Only one in three Americans rate the economy today as either excellent or good, while the percentage saying the economy is getting better fell from 28% to 23% in one month.

Oil and food prices are up. Even with the downturn in the housing market housing is much more expensive in inflation-adjusted terms in many parts of the country than it was 10 years ago. The influx of lower skilled immigrants has driven down wages at the lower end and lowered status versus the middle and upper classes.

Overall housing sales are down. But at the high end housing sales are still moderately brisk.

“The homes that are having a hard time selling are the average-priced homes,” said Vanessa Justice, a real estate agent with Pacific Union GMAC in the Bay Area, where the median house price is about $750,000. For upper-end homes, she said, “it’s actually pretty crazy right now.”

...

In the New York region, sales at the top end — that is, homes in the most expensive 5 percent of the market — have also been rising, while they have been falling in the middle and bottom of the market. The same is true in the San Jose, Calif.; Seattle; Denver; and Houston areas. In San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Miami, high-end sales are down but not by nearly as much as sales in other price segments.

Parking space prices are booming in Manhattan.

In Houston, $225,000 will buy a three-bedroom house with a game room, den, in-ground pool and hot tub.

In Manhattan, it will buy a parking space. No windows, no view. No walls.

While real estate in much of the country languishes, property in Manhattan continues to escalate in price, and that includes parking spaces. Some buyers do not even own cars, but grab the spaces as investments, renting them out to cover their costs.

The social and economic distance between the classes is widening while the amount of shared experiences is falling. This trend is not compatible with a republic of citizens equal before the law.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 12 10:15 PM  Economics Inequality
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2007 July 09 Monday
People In Michigan Most Fearful Of Job Loss

Michigan, hard hit by the declining domestic auto industry, has the lowest worker confidence of 8 large American states (the others: California, Florida, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania)

One-fourth of all workers in Michigan are unhappy with their jobs and fear being laid off, a trend that is pushing worker confidence in the state down to its lowest point since January 2004, according to a monthly survey of the eight most populous states

According to the Hudson Employment Index, worker confidence in Michigan fell in June to 72, which is 12.9 points lower than last June's 84.9 reading. At its peak, the state index hit 108.5 in September 2004.

In the last 12 months the highest national index of this employment index was in March 2007 at 109 and the national index has since gone down to 101.2. The Michigan high point of the last year was in November 2006 at 94.9. The decay to 72 is a huge change.

Does one of the other 42 states have workers whose job fears rival those of Michiganers? I'm doubting it.

The people most likely to leave are less intellectually able.

For example, 9 percent of those asked from Macomb County (where only 21 percent of residents have a bachelor's degree or higher) said they felt certain they would move out of Michigan.

By contrast, no one surveyed from Oakland County (where 41 percent of residents have a bachelor's or higher) was planning to leave.

College kids are, by and large, planning to stay. The survey found only 7 percent of those with college degrees planning to fly.

Meanwhile, those holding only high school diplomas were twice as likely to leave. Meanwhile, 18 percent of those with no degree of any kind said they would be willing to move.

Nor is the solid middle class planning to head to Manitoba. Just 3 percent of those earning between $75,000 and $100,000 were planning on leaving. But by contrast, those earning between $25,000 and $50,000 were six times as likely to report that they are discouraged and looking for sunnier pastures.government.

That bodes well for an eventual recovery. Michigan has some excellent universities and lots of smart workers who can start new businesses and create new products and services.

The Michigan economy shrunk last year while every other state grew.

Last year, Michigan was the only state with a shrinking gross domestic product, or GDP, Johnson noted. GDP is the value of all goods and services produced in the state, and in 2006 it fell 0.5 percent, while the national GDP grew 3.4 percent. In 2003, Michigan's GDP ranked 23rd in the United States. Last year it fell to 35th.

If rising oil prices push the US into a recession then Michigan is going to turn down even deeper. That's a bad place to find yourself unemployed.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 09 09:16 PM  Economics Labor
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2007 July 08 Sunday
White House Faces Need For Iraq Pullback

Senate support for Bush's Iraq war is crumbling. With Senate Republican support for the Iraqi war in decline the Bush White House no longer has time to wait for the final results of the US troop surge.

White House officials fear that the last pillars of political support among Senate Republicans for President Bush’s Iraq strategy are collapsing around them, according to several administration officials and outsiders they are consulting. They say that inside the administration, debate is intensifying over whether Mr. Bush should try to prevent more defections by announcing his intention to begin a gradual withdrawal of American troops from the high-casualty neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities.

The troop surge has not been accompanied by big political reforms by Iraq's governing factions. The Iraqi people haven't decided to rise up en masse and join freedom fighting brigades. The bulk of the fighting for the sorta government is done by American soldiers.

A growing list of Republican Senators are signing up to support a bill which would move US soldiers out of Baghdad and other hot zones in Iraq by March 2008.

Domenici became the fourth senior Republican in 10 days to significantly criticize the current Iraq strategy, following Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and John Warner (R-Va.).

...

Even more significant are the Republicans who had previously signed on as co-sponsors to the bill Domenici endorsed today. Its authors are Sens. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). Other co-sponsors include other Senate veterans who are especially close to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the Bush White House, as well as a pair of endangered incumbents.

Senior Bush Administration members are getting ready for the Senate debate on Iraq by canceling other plans.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates canceled a visit to Latin America amid mounting criticism of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Partition anyone?

With President Bush's war strategy clouded by limited results and mounting casualties, two scholars are proposing a partition plan that would divide Iraq into three main regions.

The authors, Edward P. Joseph of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, are hoping to draw the attention of Bush administration policymakers.

...

Under the plan, Iraqis would divide the country into three main regions. Each would assume primary responsibility for its own security and governance, as Iraqi Kurds already have in Kurdistan.

"Creating such a structure could prove to be difficult and risky," the report said. "However, when measured against the alternatives - continuing to police an ethnic-sectarian war, or withdrawing and allowing the conflict to escalate - the risks of soft partition appear more acceptable."

They recommend something I've long argued for: Move the ethnic and religious groups away from each other.

In Baghdad, rather than keeping vulnerable minorities in tense parts of the capital, Joseph said, "It might make sense to move them voluntarily to places where they would be safer."

Partition might have a chance at this point. Kurdistan is already semi-independent. But will the Shias and Sunnis allow themselves to get pulled apart? Will the Shia leaders accept the loss of some control over the Sunni area? (not that they have much control now) Will non-Iraqi Sunni fighters keep blowing up Shia targets in order to keep the war going?

The appeal of partition at this point is that it is a card not yet played. It is not simple retreat. The Bush Administration does not want to retreat. They might suddenly grasp partition even though doing so goes against the mythological belief that we all really can get along.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 08 11:06 PM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate
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2007 July 07 Saturday
More Civilian Contractors Than Soldiers In Iraq

T. Christian Miller of the Los Angeles Times has discovered that the US uses more contractors than US soldiers in Iraq.

The number of U.S.-paid private contractors in Iraq now exceeds that of American combat troops, newly released figures show, raising fresh questions about the privatization of the war effort and the government's capacity to carry out military and rebuilding campaigns.

More than 180,000 civilians — including Americans, foreigners and Iraqis — are working in Iraq under U.S. contracts, according to State and Defense department figures obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Including the recent troop buildup, 160,000 soldiers and a few thousand civilian government employees are stationed in Iraq.

What does this tell us? Even a force of 340,000 is not enough to put down the various insurgencies and fighting factions. Also, supposedly an Iraqi military force is fighting on the same side as the US and supposedly it provides some additional help (though we might just be training Iraqi soldiers to become better insurgents). One qualifier: Some of the contractors are doing reconstruction. So not all are in support of the military mission.

The total number of private contractors, far higher than previously reported, shows how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of Iraq — a mission criticized as being undermanned.

"These numbers are big," said Peter Singer, a Brookings Institution scholar who has written on military contracting. "They illustrate better than anything that we went in without enough troops. This is not the coalition of the willing. It's the coalition of the billing."

The contractors probably do a lot of logistics work and maintenance so that a larger percentage of the American soldiers can put themselves in harm's way.

The US still uses more Americans than non-Americans.

The numbers include at least 21,000 Americans, 43,000 foreign contractors and about 118,000 Iraqis — all employed in Iraq by U.S. tax dollars, according to the most recent government data.

43,000 foreign contractors. They are cheaper than the 21,000 Americans. Outsourcing. Wonder where they are from.

Of course, if the Iraqis really cared about freedom of religion, speech, press, and so on they'd be out en masse hunting down tribal and religious militias. US troops wouldn't need to hunt down insurgents because the Iraqis would kill them all. We are trying to turn the Iraqis into something they aren't. They do not share our relative priorities on values and loyalties. They do not share our ways of looking at life. Their religion and culture are not compatible with our values and beliefs.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 07 09:09 PM  MidEast Iraq Military Needs
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Pete Domenici Wants US Troops Out Of Iraq In 9 Months

US Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) joins the ranks of those who want to withdraw US troops from Iraq.

"We cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress," Domenici said. "I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops. But I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home."

The White House had hoped that Republican lawmakers would stand back until a mid-September administration report on military and political progress in Iraq resulting from the president's troop-increase plan, which has boosted U.S. forces by tens of thousands. But Domenici said the signal to Bush should be clear: GOP patience is running out much more quickly.

While he's not calling for an immediate withdrawal Domenici wants most US combat troops out of Iraq within 9 months.

Yesterday, Domenici embraced a new legislative proposal to reshape U.S. policy around the 79 recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. In December, the bipartisan panel called for withdrawing most U.S. combat troops by March 31, 2008, although a limited number would remain in place for training and counterterrorism operations and other specific missions.

Once the US troops leave the Iraqis can finally fight their civil war to completion. Or we could try to partition the country into Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish zones and see if we can prevent them fighting across borders. Would the Sunnis accept a deal where they get to govern their own Sunni majority country? Would the Shias let them leave?

In theory the surge of US forces was done to give the Iraqis more time to work out political compromises between factions and to thereby greatly reduce inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic violence between rival factions. But democracy in Iraq isn't working in any way resembling what you'll learn from an American civics text book. Alissa Rubin of the New York Times outlines the extent to which even the elected representatives and cabinet members in Iraq refuse to govern or compromise.

At least 12 ministers from the 38-member cabinet are no longer attending cabinet meetings. There has been little progress on benchmark legislation, including oil revenue-sharing and a law to set a date for provincial elections.

Seventy-four members of Parliament are boycotting the 275-member body, which, when combined with the members who rarely attend anyway, means that Parliament often lacks a quorum and cannot do any official business.

More important than sheer numbers, however, is that even though one Sunni Arab party is considering compromise, the larger main bloc, Tawafiq, is still refusing to participate.

The Sunnis are not willing to accept minority status. They know their own choices are to dominate or to submit to dominance by the Shias. They don't want to accept the latter because they know just how shabbily they'll get treated and they do not trust the Shias.

Richard Oppel reports that A Sunni faction is outraged that one of its cabinet members stands accused trying to get another politician killed. (these audacious Shias never would have gotten away with accusing Sunnis of bumping them off in the old glory days of Saddam)

In the latest blow to Iraq's disastrously ineffective government, six ministers from the country's Sunni political bloc said they would boycott cabinet meetings to protest the handling of allegations that one of the six, Culture Minister Asad al-Hashimi, had ordered another politician killed.

Hashimi is accused of masterminding the assassination attempt, against Mithal al-Alusi, once a top aide to the Shiite politician Ahmad Chalabi and now a member of Parliament. Alusi survived the attack, but his two sons were killed. A government spokesman has defended the inquiry as impartial, but Sunnis accuse the government of trying to discredit their leaders.

Six other cabinet members, Shiites loyal to Sadr, are already boycotting the cabinet. Members of Sadr's bloc are boycotting Parliament as well. However, Parliament's acting speaker, Khalid al-Attiya, said Friday that the lawmakers have told him they expect to return to the chamber next week after a three-week absence.

Even if all the cabinet members start attending cabinet meetings they won't work together for some shared concept of the common good. They think in tribal and religious faction terms.

An arrest warrant against Culture Minister Asad al-Hashimi is just one of the reasons why the biggest Sunni bloc is boycotting the Iraqi parliament.

The main Sunni bloc with 44 members is boycotting parliament over an unrelated issue. That would make it difficult to give legitimacy to the oil bill even if it passed.

Without their presence, Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said it was not possible to debate the measure.

The revenue-sharing bill has not been passed by the Cabinet.

Further complicating the negotiations are other political disputes. Al-Maliki's main Sunni coalition partner, the Iraqi Accordance Front, was not present when the Cabinet approved the draft because it is boycotting meetings in a row over an arrest warrant issued against the Sunni culture minister.

American soldiers are fighting in order to give the Iraqi government time to function. But the Iraqi government "functions" by doing boycotts and carrying out hits between rival factions. So American soldiers are fighting to give the Iraqi cabinet more time to kill each other.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 07 12:20 PM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate
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2007 July 04 Wednesday
Recession Could Push Chrysler Into Bankruptcy?

Chrysler is starting out financially weak but this might help it against the United Auto Workers union.

The new Chrysler is getting its first taste of life without parent Daimler. The sale of Chrysler (DCX) to private equity giant Cerberus Capital Management hasn't gone through yet, but Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service (MCO) have already rated the soon-to-be independent carmaker's debt as "junk," or below investment grade.

That's not all. Standard & Poor's ratings essentially say that Chrysler could be a recession away from bankruptcy. S&P analyst Gregg Lemos-Stein said that if the U.S. car market were to weaken further—with sales dropping from this year's pace of 16.3 million vehicles to 15.5 million vehicles next year—Chrysler could be in default by 2010.

I think the financial position into which a bunch of capitalist financiers have placed Chrysler is great news for the US auto industry. The UAW has been able to very slowly run the auto makers down for years secure in the knowledge that the car companies are not going to go bankrupt immediately. The car companies have been caught in the UAW's grip for decades slowing getting sapped of financial strength. But all the Chrysler UAW workers are now at substantial risk of either a total company shutdown or a bankruptcy that would allow the company to break its UAW contract and kick the union out of Chrysler plants entirely.

In the next round of contract negotiations the UAW is going to need to make major concessions. If it fails to do so then one or more of the big (but shrinking) 3 will eventually end up in bankruptcy court. Chrysler might go first followed by Ford. GM could probably survive the longest.

The UAW's leadership must know just how precarious the union's existence has become. The UAW just took a huge cut in pay for Delphi workers as part of the Delphi reorganization.

The agreement, which runs until September 2011, calls for Delphi to offer wages of $14.50 to $16.23 an hour for all current workers. New hires would make $14 an hour. The agreement also calls for four UAW-represented plants to remain open. The rest will be sold, closed or taken over by GM.

Workers who began their employment with GM or who were hired before the lower- tier wage for new hires went into effect earned about $27 an hour.

About 4,000 of the 17,000 remaining Delphi UAW workers were making the higher wage. Delphi offered buyouts, early retirements and "flow backs" to jobs at GM last year.

The car companies and UAW aren't just threatened by Japanese makers and the next recession. If we are near a world oil production peak (a.k.a. Peak Oil - see Stuart Staniford's Hubbert Theory says Peak is Slow Squeeze and Extrapolating World Production) then the US auto industry will get hit especially hard by rising oil prices. The US makers will need to shift very rapidly over to making diesels, hybrids, pluggable hybrids (PHEVs), pure electrics, and other high fuel efficiency vehicles and that will cause a lot of their existing designs and tooling to become obsolete.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 04 04:40 PM  Economics Transportation
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Immigration Battle Converts People Into Republicans

Pollster Scott Rasmussen finds that in the aftermath of the massive immigration fight that self identification of people as Republicans has risen.

During the month of June, the number of people identifying themselves as Republicans increased and the number of Democrats was little changed. That’s the first time in 2007 that the number of Republicans has increased. (see history). The gap between the parties the smallest it has been since last July.

It’s interesting to note that the number of Republicans increased during the same month that the President’s Job Approval fell to another all-time low.

Bush isn't seen by Republicans as very Republican. Bush allied with Ted Kennedy and other Democrats to try to push through a massive immigration amnesty that the overwhelming majority of the American people opposed. A majority of Republicans in Congress opposed this and the upshot is that more people identify themselves as Republicans.

Fewer identify as Democrats.

A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of 15,000 adults in June found that just 32.0% now say they’re Republicans. That’s up more than a full percentage point from a month ago and is within a tenth-of-a-point of the GOP’s best showing in ten months.

The survey also found that the number of people identifying themselves as Democrats fell two-tenths of a point to 36.1% in June. Only once since January 2004 has the number of Democrats in the country been lower (35.9% in December 2005). Democrats gained about two percentage points of support during 2006 and peaked at 38.0% in December of last year. Since actually taking control of Congress, Democrats have given back all of those gains.

Republican candidates who run on platforms arguing for big reductions in immigration can win and can pull more people into the Republican party.

The shift toward identification as Republicans came in spite of Bush polling as the second most unpopular US President in history.

The highest unfavorable rating for any President is earned by Richard Nixon. Sixty percent (60%) of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the only President to resign from office. Thirty-two percent (32%) have a favorable opinion of the man who famously went to China.

Close on Nixon’s heels for most unpopular is the current President, George W. Bush. Fifty-nine percent (59%) have an unfavorable opinion of him. Lyndon Johnson (42%), Bill Clinton (41%), and the first President Bush (41%) are the only other Presidents viewed unfavorably by at least 40% of Americans.

59% view Bush unfavorably. Can Bush come up with more bad policies and push his disapproval rating past Nixon? Bush has a very competitive streak. Maybe he'll view this as a challenge. Become the most reviled President. He's so convinced of his rightness that he might figure the public is sufficiently wrong that the measure of the public's disapproval is a measure of how much he's making the correct decisions.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 04 12:32 PM  Immigration Politics
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2007 July 02 Monday
Bush Lets Libby Escape Jail Time

The capo di tutti capi makes his move. Scooter gets off.

WASHINGTON, July 2 — President Bush spared I. Lewis Libby Jr. from prison Monday, commuting his two-and-a-half year sentence while leaving intact his conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice in the C.I.A. leak case.

There's a pattern here. Bush no longer cares about public opinion. He didn't care with his attempt to push immigration amnesty through. He again does not care with the Libby pardon and in this case Congress could not stop him. So he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish.

Mr. Bush’s action, announced hours after a panel of judges ruled that Mr. Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, could not put off serving his sentence while he appealed his conviction, came as a surprise to all but a few members of the president’s inner circle.

The New York Times seems to think that conservatives are happy about Bush's action. I'm thinking more along the line that if you want to know who the neocons and Bush sycophants are then look at who is happy. Neocons and Bush sycophants please raise your hands.

Bill Clinton waited till his final days in office to pardon financier Marc Rich. Rich's lawyer, one Lewis "Scooter" Libby, defended that pardon. Now Libby has his own pardon.

I think that the sort of work that Libby did in private practice should have disqualified him to serve as an advisor to a US vice president. That he could defend Marc Rich given what has come out about Rich's activities strikes me as information that should disqualify Libby from any important job in US federal government. The question of whether he broke the law in his job should never come up because people like him should be kept out of the White House.

Dick Cheney should be blamed for bringing in an advisor with Libby's background and for the fact that Libby was eventually convicted of federal crimes. Cheney should have brought more ethical people into government.

The Libby pardon shows once again elite disdain for popular wishes. Back in March 2007 CNN found the vast majority of the American people opposed a pardon for Libby.

Just 18 percent said they would support a pardon for Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, while 69 percent said they opposed the idea. Meanwhile, a narrow majority said they believe Cheney was part of a cover-up in the case.

The American Presidency is too powerful. Bush's presidency demonstrates how excessive power has accrued to whoever sits in the Oval Office. We need to fix this problem.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 02 11:57 PM  Politics American Decay
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2007 July 01 Sunday
Muslim Doctors In British Airport Bombing Plot

Two of the terrorist suspects arrested in Britain for involvement in the Glasgow airport attack are medical doctors working at British hospitals.

Both doctors were working at UK hospitals and were apparently here legally.

The revelation raises the horrifying prospect that Al Qaeda propaganda is reaching beyond disaffected young Muslims.

"These are highly-educated, articulate and intelligent people," one security source said.

Ignorance, unemployment, and poverty were not needed to drive these Muslim men to terrorism. What our elites do not want to admit: Islam is the root problem.

One of the doctors has a wife and baby.

One of the doctors, the man arrested on the M6, was said to be a Jordanian-born doctor at the North Staffordshire Hospital in Stoke-on-Trent.

He lived with his wife and baby in a rented house in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, where forensic officers were carrying out a detailed search last night.

If Muslims were kept out of the West then the Western countries would have much less risk of terrorism and Western women would be at less risk of oppression and rape.

The British knew some attack was coming up but have far too many Jihadists to watch.

Recently intercepted conversations, known as "chatter", had already alerted them that jihadists were hoping to attack Britain, most probably in a place where many people congregate.

But against a backdrop of 30 current plots, 200 suspected terrorist cells and close to 2,000 known suspects to keep under surveillance, the police and intelligence agencies were unable to pinpoint the exact timing or the targets.

That's the problem with having a large Muslim subpopulation living in your society: Too many wannabe terrorists to watch. Who knows when some group will get up the nerve and get together the supplies they need to carry out an attack? Plus, with so many groups to watch some will not get noticed at all. Attacks are inevitable.

Islamic terrorist groups are targeting university students for recruitment. This latest plot involved two doctors. Well, eventually the terrorists will manage to recruit some engineers or chemists or physicists to build them effective bombs. Or they'll just manage to get an electronic "bomb making instructions for dummies" book off the internet. The bombers in Iraq have gotten much better. The same will happen with the Muslim bombers in Britain.

The British ought to deport the illegal alien Muslims and stop Muslim immigration. The Brits also ought to revoke permanent residency for the non-citizen resident Muslims and deport them as well. Also, do citizenship buy-outs and pay citizen Muslims to leave.

Update:

In recent years, Britain has become a hornet's nest of Islamic extremism. The domestic intelligence service MI5 is currently investigating 30 major terror plots in the U.K. and has under surveillance more than 1,600 individuals, who are operating as part of 200 British-based terror networks.[1]In April, British courts convicted an Islamic terror cell of attempting to kill thousands of shoppers at the U.K.'s largest shopping mall, in Bluewater, Kent. Between September 2001 and December 2006, there were 1,166 terrorism-related arrests in the U.K., with more than 400 people charged.[2]

The scale of the problem involving young Islamic extremists in Britain was highlighted in a major 2005 British Foreign Office/Home Office study, "Young Muslims and Extremism." Terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda have found a fertile hunting ground in the U.K., where half of Muslims are under the age of 25, and where there is widespread opposition to the U.S.–British-led war on terror. The report revealed that extremist groups are secretly recruiting well-educated, affluent Muslims from British universities, in addition to impoverished, underachieving Muslims through mosques and prisons. Former MI5 Director General Eliza Manningham-Buller estimates that more than 100,000 British citizens consider the July 2005 London attacks "justified."

Highly educated terrorists. Education is not a panacea that makes everyone into a secular liberal.

By Randall Parker 2007 July 01 08:41 PM  Immigration Terrorism
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